ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
Good Boys and True
By Elyse Sommer
The question as to whether Brandon is or isn't guilty is answered pretty quickly and it doesn't take a degree in psychology to figure out the reason the tape was made or why the sex depicted is so smarmy. But hold on. This is not just twice or more told tale well told yet another time.
Aguirre-Sacasa, a prolific young writer of fantasy comics and TV as well as stage plays, has the imagination dramatic savvy to give a potent facelift to a familiar situation, and make it not only blaze with erotic tension but reveal the effect of the legacy of privilege exemplified by schools like St. Joseph's. In short, Good Boys and True rises above genre through its provocatively chilling social undercurrent. In fact, the scandal that sets the story in motion, is just that, a set-up for exploring the class system whereby access to an exclusive education and a network of influential friends is passed on from father to son.
While the play covers just three days in the lives of its characters and revolves around a single moral misdeed, its roots are far deeper. By the time it's all over we realize that Brandon is merely part of this all too pervasive system of class exclusivity; a system that gives lip service to character building, as espoused in St. Joseph's mission (per the above quote).
As our Chicago critic put it when he saw an early version of Good Boys and True, this system often rewards its insiders even when privileges are not fully and honorably earned and can thus "corrupt and deform" an individual's personality and growth as much as celebrity and instant fame worship. Brandon, like many of his classmates, has gained easy admittance to his father's prep school. He's already set for the next privileged rung up the success ladder with early admission to his father's Ivy League college but this moving through life by virtue of class connection comes with another legacy— the tendency to engage in practices demeaning to young women and also using foul rather than fair means to deal with competition.
Second Stage, which in 2004 helped launch Aguirre-Sacasa's playwrighting career by producing his The Mystery Plays at its Second Stage Uptown series, has now given him a production with all the elements needed to make Good Boys and True as good as it can be: Six actors to connect to emotions that range over repressed sexuality, confusion, guilt and anger . . . a director with the knowhow to give the ninety minutes a full and complex feel without any lapses in pace. . . flexible, atmospheric stagecraft to create the various locations for the interaction between the characters to play out.
J .Smith-Cameron in a too rare and thus most welcome stage appearance, gives a rounded, sympathetic performance in the key role Elizabeth Hardy, the only parent represented in the unfolding scandal. Herself a product of privilege, yet with an inherent decency, the brouhaha over the tape opens a pandora's box of anguished questions about her family's complacent sense of living an economically and morally good life. She and her husband are in the helping professions rather than the self-entitled financial types at their Zenith during this Reagnomics era. The husband's being abroad on a medical volunteer mission not only underscores this but also explains why she has to handle the tape situation alone.
Neither Elizabeth or the absent husband see any reason their son should not follow in their footsteps. There are hints that he is a better athlete than a student by references to a Kaplan study course they insisted he take. However, for her younger school teacher sister Maddy, played with understated charm by Kellie Overbey, the private high school they attended was an anathema and had quite a different effect on her life choices.
Maddy's more egalitarian sensibility is paralelled among the younger characters by Brandon's friend Justin. Christopher Abbott teases every nuance out of this pivotal character. Justin's assessment of his fellow students gives the play some of its sharpest dialogue and what happens to his friendship with Brandon adds yet another highly charged emotional issue to the play. Brian J. Smith doesn't succeed quite as well with the difficult task of making Brandon endearing enough for us to support his mother's standing by him no matter what happens, yet convey the necessar preppy cool. He's convincing as the preppy but somehow less persuasive when his troubled inner self surfaces. Lee Tergesen plays the good old boy Coach with aptly slick geniality.
True to the title, this is a play about the customs fostered by legacy dominated private schools so the play's second female character has only one fairly brief scene. However, Betty Gilpin's appearance as Cheryl (the abused girl on the tape) marks one of the play's most powerful scenes. Her exchange with Smith-Cameron's Elizabeth brings home the devastating fallout of the town-gown class system and the huge divide between women from vastly different backgrounds.
While ultimately Good Boys and True isn't an earth-shattering drama, Roberto Aguirre-Scassa deserves at least one of those small trophies of designer Derek McLane's trophy-lined set, for catapulting a not especially novel plot into a work with considerable force and scope. It would be interesting to invite some students from public and private high schools for special viewings and talkbacks.
Links to other plays by Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa plays reviewed at CurtainUp:
Based on a Totally True Story -2006
Dread Awakening: "Bloody Mary," -2006
Rough Magic-2007 DC
The Velvet Sky/ Aguirre- 2006, DC
The Mystery Plays-2004
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
The Little Mermaid
Shrek The Musical
Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide
Playbill 2007-08 Yearbook